What is Social Class? Economy, Status, and Culture
With skyrocketing inequality, increased labor strife, and the emergence in American politics of self-identified socialist politicians, questions of social class have returned to the fore. While the concept of class is an elementary unit of social analysis across intellectual traditions—from Marxist to Weberian to neoconservative—arguments rage over the determinative power of class as a reality and agent of social, economic, and political life. On the one hand, a stratified class system seems to be a base condition of economic activity, a spur to political conflict, and the architecture of the institutions that manage our lives. On the other, intersecting with social class, and shaping and being shaped by it (and sometimes, seemingly, superseding it), are a multiplicity of different personal and social identifiers—from religion to subculture to race and ethnicity. How can we understand the role and significance of class in 21st-century capitalist life?
This course is an examination of the meaning and power of social class. Over four weeks, we’ll examine the classic definitions of social class, explore class-based practices and their consequences, grapple with the significance of class as a determining factor in social life, and reflect on class membership as an identity. In addition to reading major writers on class, including Karl Marx, Max Weber, C. Wright Mills, and Pierre Bourdieu, we may consider ethnographies and case studies that illustrate class-based dynamics. As we attempt to understand how social class operates, we’ll consider multiple points of view. What generates and forms a class? Can we belong to multiple classes at once? Does class always matter, or only in certain historical circumstances? Is class separate from status? What are the limitations of class-based analyses? How can we understand the intersection of class with nationality, race, and gender?
Course ScheduleThursday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
January 28 — February 18, 2021